How to pass the posh test to get a top job

Jun 23, 2015

Here’s why all the top jobs go to ‘posh people’ – and what you can do about it!

You may have the aptitude, you may have the skill, but if you don’t fit in at the UK’s top law, finance or accountancy firms they won’t employ you. To get a top job at one of these companies you need more than merit; you need to make them they like you.

The government dubs this the ‘posh test’ and says it hinders social mobility by barring entry to the elite professions.

If you’re looking for a lucrative career in accountancy, law or banking this is crucial because taken together this sector of industry is responsible for the employment of 45,000 graduates each year.

Most news reports covering the research simply parrot the government’s key recommendations to tackling the problem, which is to adopt the positive discrimination practices seen in other parts of industry. This includes purposely targeting graduates from working class backgrounds, supporting them through the application process, and broadening the definition of talent to recognise a wider range of aptitude and skill.

However, what most fail to realise is that these top firms demand a certain type of brightness that they are not going compromise.

Graduates must understand the culture of top firms to get a top job

All of these companies have very distinct and powerful set cultures that make them what they are and they are going to work hard to maintain that. A graduate with his or her sight on a top job in this industry must know what the culture is: you cannot expect the organisation to bend to your personality, instead you must bend to match theirs.

So should bright working class graduates miss out on jobs at top law or accountancy firms?               

Certainly not. Most of these companies agree that a young person with a 2:2 from a less affluent part of town deserves a chance but they still need to fit in. Companies like PWc and Ernston Young are frantic for people from a rainbow of cultures. You can’t all be Anglo Saxon white anymore when you’re presenting proposals to clients across the globe.

But the problem is rather more nuanced than all the press articles suggest. Firstly, you have to have the very highest level of academic intelligence to make it in the elite professions because these professions are by their nature very academically inclined. Graduates with the very highest grades in A levels and a Russell Group university education have through this process been academically challenged and so are a natural fit. However, if you are prepared to work into that culture they will take you – but your personality must blend to match theirs and not the other way around.

Secondly, you must understand that all organisations are tribal and you have to have the personality that matches that tribe. One interviewer from a top firm said it was a case that candidates ‘get me’ and understand ‘my jokes’. There is less risk one will become offended by witticisms and, most importantly, it’s less work than having to filter through a lot of non-Russell Group candidates to find that one diamond.

What to do to pass the posh test and get a top job

It’s not that easy but all is not lost. Take it from me as a Geordie with a broad accent who was told to go to elocution lessons but nevertheless was hired. And that was during the 1970’s at time when discrimination was rife. It is much more meritocratic now than then but there are also many more people applying for each of those jobs than before.

So what is this posh test and how can you increase your chances of passing it to get a top job? According to responses from interviewers at top firms the more of the following you have the more you will increase your chances of landing a top job in law, accountancy or banking:

  • Good grades from a Russell Group university
  • Good A levels from a selective state or fee-paying school
  • Bag loads of self-awareness and self-confidence
  • You’ve travelled extensively or worked abroad
  • Exposure to different cultures around the world
  • Excellent communication skills – accent plays a crucial role
  • A demonstrable understanding of the company, its culture and its industry

If you think you could do with some support to get a top job in accountancy, law or banking speak to us at Graduate Coach.

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